The cut-off date for public submissions on the controversial restructuring of Tauranga's BayHopper and SchoolHopper bus services has been extended by a week.
Instead of submissions closing today the council has bowed to pressure from hundreds of parents dismayed by plans to axe most of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Schoolhopper services.
Council public transport committee chairman Lyall Thurston announced the extension to next Tuesday, saying that if large numbers of people wanted to present their submissions in person then the council would consider a hearing.
He said the council wanted to make the right decision and nothing had been set in stone. "It is a question of getting the consultation right and seeing what we can do."
The plan to axe most Schoolhopper services and put students on to Bayhopper public buses coincided with proposed improvements to the BayHopper service, including more regular buses and shorter travel times.
Meanwhile, regional councillor and former chairman John Cronin is determined to pursue his idea of offering a free bus service to students in a bid to reduce rush-hour congestion on city roads.
The marked improvement in Tauranga's roads during school holidays and the need to convince parents it was safe for their children to bike to school have convinced Mr Cronin that the estimated $1 million cost would be worth it.
He said the first priority was to sort out the services and then look at the cost to understand what a free service for students looked like.
"I have had no negative feedback telling me to take a running jump," he said.
Mr Cronin said the council had to make sure the infrastructure was in place once the routes to service the schools had been finalised. The council was engaging with schools on what they needed, rather than new services being foisted on to schools.
He said he was realistic about what could feasibly be achieved by way of free buses for students. "We can't put it totally on ratepayers."
Mr Cronin's campaign also included a strong safety message. "We have got to have a package. It is about the ability to move around safely, whether it is on a bike or in a bus . . . we have got to find solutions, somewhere there is a solution that fits the problem."
All the parties - the two councils, the New Zealand Transport Agency and affected parents - were working together, he said.
SchoolHopper - the big picture
- Currently 45 routes
- 544,000 passenger trips a year
- About 1380 students use the service per day
- Proposed reduction to 11 routes
- Displaced students use public Bayhopper services
- $1.5m annual saving in contract costs